Middlesbrough vs Sheffield United


By Steve Mackan (NVQ)

A cautionary tale of missed coaches, aggressive acquaintances, motorway services and how not to kidney punch a kid…

Missed the chuffing coach

My waking thoughts creep into life as quick as a Neil Shipperley sprint. Scanning for moisture, my tongue darts around my lips; nothing. After my night shift, I had left a half-empty glass of water on my bedside table and this quenches my thirst. Bleary-eyed, I check the time: Oh my Coutts, it’s five-past five!

I’ve missed the coach from Bramall Lane to the Riverside and yet I scramble to dress anyway. The Cube (Nissan) is out of commission in the garage. The trains won’t get me there in time. I check my phone…Wife (away), Keith (ont coach), our Judd (not been in years), our Judd’s lad (pig, I think), Jenny Sours (bitter), Cal (abroad)…..what about Gant Tcharte?

In such dire straits, I hit ‘call Gant’ on my cellular telephone. I haven’t spoken to him since he provoked mass hilarity by chasing a set of teenage wannabes at Fulham Away,  banging his fists against his motorbike helmet, screaming ‘you agile bastards’ and eventually throwing himself in front of a parked electric vehicle. But the phone rings…

Gant it’s Steve here….yep….aye…..I’ve missed the coach… yep…yep…a proper nightmare…yeah….right….what do you mean you’re already outside?

I look through the curtains and he’s there in his leathers, his denim legs straddling his Harley, Shaniah. I run outside, say hello, grab a helmet and without the time to consider whether or not this is a good idea, we set off…

The Journey

Journeying by motorcycle has never been my ‘thing’ and, although Shaniah has the looks, she’s no Cube. My arms around Jimbo’s waist, it’s all I can do to shut my eyes and think of England, their stumbling World Cup campaign and then United. Cor, I hope Duffy’s starting tonight.

Thirst gets the best of me and I call over the growl of acceleration, ‘There owt to drink Gant?’ The leather-bound biker hears me, pulls a flask from some unknown place and turns his head, ‘this contains my final portion of ambivalence’, he hollers, ‘only malice hereafter!’ His bicep uncoils, hurling the receptacle at a Motorway sign reading ‘Services left’. A route which Gant takes with an aggressive swerve, ‘It’s all war now Steve, unequivocal war,’ he cackles. (I begin to think I should have stayed home and tried Sky’s red button.)

Wetherby Services

We pull into Wetherby Services ‘by Moto’. Gant spins his back wheel into an Eco-electric charging base, snapping it cleanly in two and almost sending me flying. He then rods a staff member who had the temerity to react with mild alarm.

Queuing for a Steak Bake, I clock Gant – post toilet stop – jogging through the crowd towards me; helmet on, leathers zipped up and some toilet paper trapped in his visor. A lass wearing United’s anniversary kit speaks out, ‘mate, you’ve got tissue in your visor.’ This is her second mistake. (Her first was ordering a Creamy Vegetable Pasty).

Newly bereft of ambivalence and enraged at being spoken to by a woman of fewer than six feet, Gant rips the hot pastry from the woman’s clutches and violently bangs it against his helmet, splattering all nearby with hot, root vegetable-infused cream sauce. “I AM NOBODIES PATSY,” he screams. Then he retrieves the toilet roll from his visor and wipes his helmet as if all of this had been planned.

I convince him to clear off before he causes another ruckus and once again, our journey begins…

Outside the turnstile

We are about to enter the Riverside. Steam bounces of Gant’s leathers like piss on a tent. He’s holding back. The last 2p in the Tuppenny Falls of his brain prevents Gant from kidney punching an eight year old boy. The final 2p is lost. It’s down to me to stop him.

The offending child holds aloft a hot dog without any mustard. A provocation too far for Gant who, fuming like an overheating chef with a chapped arse, swings a gloved fist at the kid. I deflect the blow with my rucksack, grabbing the mad idiot in a bearhug.

“Gant. Mate, you can’t kidney punch kids!”

He glares at me through his visor, tensing to break out of the hold. He screams through the helmet, forcing a small stream of sweat and spittle to collect in a reservoir in the crease of his leathers:


(Luckily neither the child nor its parents have noticed any of this.) Then, uncontrollable as a Basham cross, Gant breaks free, howling manically. I try to grab him, he pulls away, takes a pyro from his pocket, lights a match against his leather, ignites the taper of the flare, pushes me away and hurls the flare at the child like a grenade.

The short fuse is yet to burn to the nub. The young lad looks at his feet. ‘Is this your Sherbert Fountain?’ His naive, eight-year old foot kicks the flare back towards us, as if Gant had asked for his ball back. I take a step back, Gant takes a step forward; the thing burst into life, igniting the match ticket protruding from the bizarre biker’s pocket.

Unfortunately for children everywhere, a scorching hot fire refuses to break out over his leathers. But it’s enough to distract the oaf…

DEM 90 MINUTES: Escape

I had to get away from the flame-retardant beast. Hot-footing it toward the turnstile whilst Gant fumbled around for a ticket that had burnt to nothingness, I check the team: NO DUFFY! 

My heart-rate was already beating like a first-time drummer, and then the game kicks off. Within five minutes we concede and my terrible trip down Fury Road seems an implausibly bad decision. As bad as the decision to bench Duffy once again.

By the time we concede the second from a corner and the third from a deep cross, I managed to summon a perplexed chuckle at the entire situation. The lengths I go to, just to watch this shower. It’s enough to make you go full Gant-mad….

The second half is barely an improvement. Middlesbrough are crap and we are crapper. Time passes slowly, as does our midfield. Things liven up when Duffy comes on the scene, but it’s too little, too late.

The only relief – a big one at that – is that I manage to find the coach. I present the driver my ticket and explain the story of how I’ve got here. “That’s a weird one mate,” he says. I agree with him, sit in my seat, recline and fall asleep.


Defeat against Swansea hit my like a kidney punch to a child. But today was, as they say, summat else. We looked more clueless than Michael Tonge in a Spelling Bee. Discombobulated. Muddled. Out of kilter (like Fleck in shorts.)

It’s a disappointing start. Chris Wilder has much to address: nowt in midfield;  nowt at the back; nowt up front; inability to defend corners..the list goes on. But I’m sure the disappointment will come to an end.

I am not too concerned. Honestly, I’m just glad I got out of the Riverside alive, and without a criminal record for aiding and abetting a seething biker. I’ll never call Gant Tcharte again. But all in all, I’ve come out pretty unscathed.

Until next time…

Man of the match

Without his omnipresence and omnipotence, I would surely have come out of this tale very much scathed: Paul Coutts.

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